In the early spring of 1980 while living in Wales, I found myself making a slow turn into a very isolated and primitive part of the north Wales coast. There was a small hand-painted, weathered sign saying simply, Bod-Fin.
As usual, the curiosity killing this cat, I turned down a long circuitous drive, which ended with numerous abandoned looking medieval buildings. Everything seemed quiet and recently abandoned, but there was a strong smell of life everywhere. It was obviously a working farm, but without any animals, people, etc. Finally I knocked on the farmhouse door and an elderly woman invited me into her kitchen, where I told her my story, and without any hesitation she welcomed me into a house, a farm and a history I will never forget.
I returned to this magical place many times over the next week to learn more about the isolated yet remarkable life of this farm. It was right out of a Charles Dickens novel. The woman, her husband and brothers ran this old, ancient farm, surrounded by a world that was leaping into corporate jets, masters of the universe, cell phones, etc. I loved this place. I loved its smells, its history, its pace, and even its manure.
It turned out that early in the morning, hundreds of animals of all kinds were let loose to go their merry way. There were cattle, goats, sheep, pigs, turkeys, donkeys, chickens, and every variety of domestic cat, dogs, birds which were set free from their overnight lodgings to wander slowly but surely into their designated pastures. There were no tethers, leashes, guides, but rather simply open gates and on cue either by a long familiar history or one leading another, these animals walked slowly to their appointed places. But more remarkable, and what I truly loved was the eventide.
Sharply at five as if a whistle were blown, the slow precession began. All the animals in a chaotic yet organized procession would slowly return to their appointed places. There were hundreds of animals walking across each other’s paths, nodding appropriately at intersections, mingling, stopping to chat and then continuing on their way. If these animals didn’t look like a goat they probably would have been people. Chickens were catching free rides on the cattle’s backs, donkeys and pigs were crossing each other’s paths and in the midst of this I would stand. It was the crossroads. Day after day I would watch, mesmerized by what I was seeing. There were no people, only animals and yet all seemed well.
This was obviously the true precursor to free range. Everything mixed at a timely place. It was total organized chaos, hysterically funny and wonderful.
For whatever reason this urban boy had already learned to love gardens and the rural life. I had photographed many farms, but never one like this. I had also begun my fascination with chickens and turkey’s. I have no idea where this came from or what this meant.
Throughout my journey’s to primitive or rural environs I found myself attracted to the curious and whimsical qualities of chickens and turkeys. There seems to be at least one chicken photograph from every place I wandered in my early life. So I watched amazed and in wonder at the animal kingdom of Bod-Fin. It was a place that nurtured animals, not people. It was a farm right on the majestic Irish Sea, whose farmers had never ventured into the water nor learned how to swim. It was a farm of medieval curiosities.
It was if the animals ran the place and the people were there to nurture their needs and wants.
On this eve of Thanksgiving, I thought it appropriate to not only give thanks to the life I have lived and seen, but to the turkey itself, on its way from one place to another.
My life is like this farm. I am happy in the way of the old, yet I live in the ways of the new. I see value in the past, yet I am immersed in the life of the present.
On Thanksgiving I hope I can find a way, like all the animals at Bod-Fin, to find my way in the world, through the chaos, back to the house and family that I call home.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all.